Patriots

Matt Cassel: Why you shouldn't worry about Patriots' offensive line injuries

Matt Cassel: Why you shouldn't worry about Patriots' offensive line injuries

Any time you have rotating parts on the offensive line -- Korey Cunningham and Marshall Newhouse have had to step in for Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon, and obviously the center position has changed with David Andrews being out -- it's going to be a major question mark.

But I think the wild card in this whole situation is Dante Scarnecchia.

I’ve said this time and time again: Dante Scarnecchia is the best offensive line coach in the NFL. He's been doing it for so long, and his ability to coach these guys and have them ready to play is second to none.

Scar is so detail-oriented. He does a great job in the run game, and he also understands protection schemes and blitz pickup identification.

When I was in New England, we would do 9-on-7, which is a run-oriented drill. He'd do a great job of making sure I identified the appropriate linebacker for the offensive line so they knew who to block. He also has a great balance of pushing those guys: pushing to get the best out of them, but also knowing when to pull back.

They’re so detail-oriented in that offensive line room that you feel good as a quarterback -- going into any game or any situation, with whoever’s playing -- that he’ll have those guys prepared to understand their blocking and protection schemes.

In 2005, our starting center, Dan Koppen, went down with a season-ending injury. Russ Hochstein was always our interior "swing guy" -- he played guard and center -- and I remember Russ stepping in and playing beautifully.

Your leader on the offensive line is your center, because the communication really takes place between him and quarterback. And I thought we didn’t miss a beat when Russ came in, because Scar had him prepared at that position.

That said, the best example I can think of is Stephen Neal. This is a guy who never played high school football, college football or anything like that. He was an All-American wrestler in college.

But we picked him up, and Coach Scarnecchia and the rest of the staff developed Steve into dominant force for us at guard for years to come. I think a lot of his development as a player had to do with the coaching and expertise that took place within that room.

You’ve got to have trust in your guys up front. And a lot of that comes from you having a tremendous amount of faith in the coaching staff to prepare those guys every week. 

Every coaching staff has a feel for it. But based on my experience, the Patriots' coaching staff was the best I’ve been around during my NFL career.

If certain pass rushers that were giving us problems on the edge -- we called them "game-wreckers" -- Scar and the coaching staff would always come up with a great scheme to help, whether it was chipping the edge with the running backs or showing tight end presence so the pass-rusher couldn’t get clean run at the quarterback coming off the ball.

So, when we played the Colts and guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who were one of the most dominant pass-rushing tandems in the league, we’d always have a plan. We wouldn’t let those guys ruin the game. 

I think that’s the genius part of what the Patriots do: They go above and beyond in identifying the issue and doing whatever they can to make sure it doesn’t wreck the offensive plan. 

That's what I expect Scarnecchia and the coaching staff will continue to do, regardless of who's out there.

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.

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Demaryius Thomas blasts Patriots, calls trade to Jets 'disrespectful'

Demaryius Thomas blasts Patriots, calls trade to Jets 'disrespectful'

Demaryius Thomas apparently has a lot to get off his chest.

Mostly quiet during his tenure in New England, the Jets wide receiver took a flamethrower to the Patriots on Wednesday, accusing his former team of "insulting" him by not giving him a chance to succeed.

"It was insulting, for sure,” Thomas told the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta. “Once I got cut (on August 31), I could have just come here (to the Jets) and not stayed there and re-sign. When they re-signed me, I was thinking that I was good. Two weeks later, I was gone.

"So, it’s like, ‘Why did I waste my time?’ Because at the end of the day, it was kind of a waste of time for me."

The Patriots signed Thomas in April, taking a flyer on the five-time Pro Bowler as he recovered from a December 2018 Achilles injury. The team released him during final roster cuts but re-signed him two days later, at which point Thomas thought he was safe.

After the Patriots traded him to the Jets on Sept. 10 -- one day after signing Antonio Brown -- the 31-year-old felt stabbed in the back.

"They kicked me (to the curb) and shipped me out like I’m just a rookie," Thomas told Mehta. " ... It was disrespectful to me."

" ... You told me when you cut me at the (final) cut, sit around you’ll bring me back. And I stayed. I could have easily become a Jet once I got cut. … I could have been here the next day after I got released. But I chose to stay."

Thomas also detailed Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's rather rational explanation for trading him to New York.

"Coach (Belichick) came up to me and was like, ‘Uh, we got too many guys. We can’t get the ball around enough and we’re going to trade you to the Jets,' " Thomas said. "And that was that."

Thomas caught two touchdown passes in New England's fourth preseason game but never appeared in a regular-season game, as the Patriots deemed him expendable after signing Brown.

The Brown experiment obviously didn't work out, though, and Thomas seems intent on rubbing a little salt in New England's wound ahead of the teams' Week 7 contest on Monday night.

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Marquis Flowers, Sterling Moore, Sealver Siliga among ex-Patriots taken in XFL draft

Marquis Flowers, Sterling Moore, Sealver Siliga among ex-Patriots taken in XFL draft

Former Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers, ex-Pats Sterling Moore, a cornerback, and Sealver Siliga, a defensive tackle, were among the players with New England ties selected in the XFL draft.

The spring football league that played one season in 2001 is being rebooted and will begin play in February with eight teams. Its two-day draft concluded Wednesday.

Players were picked in five phases of the draft in the following order: skill position, offensive line, defensive front seven and defensive backs. An open portion concluded the draft.

Flowers, 27, who played for the Patriots in 2017, was selected with the Dallas Renegades' second pick of the open portion.

Siliga, 29, a Patriot from 2012-15, also went to Dallas with their second pick of the front seven phase.

Moore, 29, known for stripping the ball from Baltimore Ravens receiver Lee Evans in the end zone and denying what would've been a winning touchdown catch in the Pats' 2011 AFC Championship Game victory, was picked by the Seattle Dragons in the defensive back phase.

Other notable ex-Patriots, defensive end Kony Ealy, acquired in a trade by New England in 2017 but cut that summer in training camp, was the first pick of the Houston Roughnecks in the open phase. Running back Ralph Webb, an undrafted free agent who had a strong preseason opener in 2018 before being cut, was the first pick of the Tampa Bay Vipers in the open phase and linebacker Scooby Wright, who played for the Patriots this past preseason and was cut from their practice squad Oct. 1, was chosen by the DC Defenders in the front-seven phase. 

Former Boston College running back Andre Williams was selected by Houston in the skill position phase.

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